Food: James and the giant feast

Chef James Martin
Chef James Martin

He may be a familiar face on TV, but James Martin isn’t happy about chefs clogging up air time

Don’t get James Martin started on the number of chefs on TV at the moment.

Yes, he may be a chef, and yes he may be on telly a fair bit, but he’s also rather fed up with seeing members of his profession clambering for their close-ups.

“Fundamentally, I’m doing something I love,” reasons the Malton-born 42-year-old. “I never wanted to be on television, I didn’t go into this industry to be on TV, and unfortunately now, most chefs when you ask the younger ones, well, they just want to be on TV. It’s not about that.”

While the statement seems to contradict Martin’s own TV engagements, including Saturday Kitchen and the second series of Home Comforts, filmed at his home and based on his new book of the same name, he insists his career is built on a rocksteady love of food.

“The industry is so important to me first, and the TV is secondary,” he adds. “I just so happen to be doing this because I was told I was good at it, and that’s why the phone kept ringing. I’d be quite happy if the filming stopped. I’ll go back to my restaurant.”

But it doesn’t sound like the chatty chef is in a rush to leave the small screen soon.

Having taken part in BBC One’s Meet The Street, where he took famous people back to their hometowns to tackle loneliness in their area, he is evangelical about the power of telly.

“I just think TV is such a magical thing, as in it can change people’s lives and make you cry, make you happy,” explains Martin, who also hosted BBC One’s Operation Hospital Food, which saw him working to improve meals served up in wards.

“It’s an amazing thing, really. The more I do it, the more I enjoy it. I’ve been doing it for 20 years now and it’s just the best job in the world... but then I always want my other job.”

And it’s his “other job” - writing recipes (especially ones which cater for people who live “north of Watford” and include ingredients everyone should be able to track down easily), or working at his Manchester restaurant - that really gets him buzzing.

“I go back to my kitchen for normality, that’s my day job,” says Martin, who came fourth in the third series of Strictly Come Dancing.

But he loves the chance to “dive in and out”, and travel the country meeting foodies for work.

“Meeting people is fascinating,” he says. “Whatever they do, wherever they’re from, whatever they’ve got, people are fascinating.”

To treat the fascinating people in your life, here’s a recipe from Home Comforts to try at home...

Chicken and Wild Mushroom Frying Pan Pie


(Serves 3-4)

For the rough puff pastry:

250g plain flour, more to dust

250g very cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1/2tsp salt

For the filling:

25g unsalted butter

1 banana shallot, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely sliced

2 large skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1cm-thick slices

150g mixed mushrooms, such as chanterelle, girolle and chestnut, sliced if necessary

50ml Madeira

150ml chicken stock

2tbsp chopped tarragon leaves

200ml double cream

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 egg yolks, lightly beaten


For the pastry, place the flour in a mound on a clean work surface and make a well in the centre.

Place the butter and salt in the well and work them together with the fingertips of one hand, gradually drawing the flour into the centre with the other hand. When the cubes of butter have become small pieces and the dough is grainy, gradually add 125ml of ice-cold water and mix until it is all incorporated. But don’t overwork the dough; the butter should give a marbled effect to the pastry and not be mixed in fully.

Roll the mixture out on a lightly floured surface into a 2.5cm-thick rectangle, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Flour the work surface and roll out the pastry into a 40x20cm rectangle. Fold one short side over by one-third, then the other short side on top of it, as though you were folding a business letter. Turn 90-degrees. Roll the block of pastry into a 40x20cm rectangle as before, and fold it into three again. These are the first two turns. Repeat twice more to make four turns in total.

Wrap the pastry in cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Heat a large (24cm) ovenproof frying pan until hot, add the butter and, when it foams, add the shallot and garlic and fry for one minute, then add the chicken and fry until just coloured. Add the mushrooms and fry over a high heat for two or three minutes until softened, add the Madeira and set the mixture alight with a match, standing well back.

When the flames subside, pour in the stock and bring to a simmer, then add the tarragon and cream and simmer for five minutes. Check the seasoning, then set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface until it is 5cm wider than the frying pan and 4-5mm thick. Brush the edges of the frying pan with the egg. Lay the pastry over the filling and crimp at the edges. Trim away any excess pastry and brush the top of the pie with the remaining egg. Decorate with any pastry trimmings, if you like.

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and golden and the filling is bubbling.